Jerry Noble and Stephanie Johnson have a lot in common.
Both of them are mechanically minded – “I’ve always loved to tear things apart and put them back together,” Noble said.
Both chose a path after high school that didn’t include college. Noble joined the military; Johnson got married and started a family. “My parents said go to college; my friends said get married,” Johnson said. “Of course I listened to my friends.”
Both of their paths eventually led them to Elizabethtown Community and Technical College, where they will graduate this May as standouts in their disciplines – Noble in automotive/diesel and Johnson in programming and Web design.
And in recognition of their achievements, both have been selected from the nearly 7,000 students at ECTC to represent the college on the 2014 Kentucky Community and Technical College System All-Academic Team.
It’s an honor neither saw coming.
Previously a stay-at-home mother of six, Johnson, 52, of Summersville, had held a string of temporary jobs – bus driver, custodian, Amazon.com employee and census representative – and slipped into the mindset that a successful career was simply out of her reach.
But she always loved computers, even taught herself how to fix them.
“My husband says I’m computer crazy,” she said. “I still have my first Commodore 64.”
Johnson enrolled at ECTC in 2011 in the computer networking program, but switched to programming and Web design after taking her first programming course. “I loved it,” she said.
Something else she grew to love is being involved and encouraging others, whether it’s as president of the Alpha Lambda Delta chapter of Phi Theta Kappa national honor society, as a student ambassador at ECTC, or as a member of her church, where she often tells other college students to “commit to complete.”
Johnson’s capacity for leadership is one of many traits that contribute to her nomination to the KCTCS All-Academic Team, according to Kevin Parrett, ECTC instructor and lead advisor for Phi Theta Kappa at ECTC.
“Stephanie is very determined and knows how to get the job or task done,” Parrett said. “Being invited to join Phi Theta Kappa alone shows she is at the top of her class. (Maintaining) a 3.5 GPA and earning As in her courses further prove her dedication.”
For Noble, of Vine Grove, going to college was the next logical step in an already established career.
By the time he retired from the Army in 2011 as a motor pool sergeant, he had been deployed twice to Iraq and spent a career working on and teaching others how to repair turrets, tanks and hulls. Noble, 42, knew that if he wanted to work in the civilian world, he needed to find a way to transfer his skills to a more universal application. A buddy told him about the automotive program at ECTC.
“I can’t lose out. I’ve got to go,” he thought. And with a VA loan to apply toward full-time college tuition, “I had no reason not to go.”
Already a Kentucky state school bus inspector and mechanic with Taylor Motors on Fort Knox, Noble attended ECTC full time at night. It wasn’t easy, but as a veteran, he already had developed the discipline and drive he would need to balance work and school, and he excelled at both.
“I wish all my students were like Jerry,” said Steve Gabehart, an instructor in the automotive and diesel programs at ECTC. “He doesn’t do anything with half his heart – kind of an all-in kind of guy. A true leader.”
Gabehart, who teaches night class, has had Noble in nearly all of his classes, often calling on him to help new or less experienced students who need help or have questions.
“He’s the kind of student who causes me to raise my bar, makes me a better teacher,” Gabehart said. “Honestly, he could teach the class.”
Noble has thought about doing just that: continuing with his education to get an advanced degree and returning to ECTC to teach. Actually, that’s another thing he and Johnson have in common.
“This is a great place,” Johnson said. “To come back and teach here, how much better could it get?”
But first, both will need to complete their associate’s degrees, which they’ll do in May, and continue moving forward to meet their education and career goals.
For Noble, that means passing the Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification test series to become a master certified mechanic. “I hope to have all eight ASEs before I graduate,” he said.
For Johnson, it means staying the course to earn a bachelor’s degree from Western Kentucky University, which she intends to do by 2016.
For both of them, it means continuing to learn – whether it’s in the classroom, the computer lab, the shop, or in life – and sharing what they learn with others.
“Technology doesn’t stop,” Noble said. “Every day, I’m reminded I still have more to learn.”
Where they’ll go from here, “who knows?” Johnson said. “You just have to take it one step at a time and see where it leads.”